Developmental Psychology

Developmental Psychology

At Indiana University, we view the study of development as the study of mechanisms and causal forces of change. We seek to prepare future scientists by giving them the empirical and theoretical tools needed to go beyond the mere description of development to an explanation of how change happens. Questions about developmental process transcend specific content areas and specific species. Thus, an understanding of developmental process requires both deep expertise in a specific content area and a broad awareness of developmental phenomena across what are normally considered separate areas in psychology and allied sciences. For example, we believe that studies of infant motor development of smiling and other facial gestures, and studies of the development of songs in birds help us understand how language is acquired.

First Year
  • Courses in advanced statistics
  • First-Year research
  • Seminars and courses in developmental psychology and other areas
Second Year
  • Second-year research project
  • Seminars and courses in development and other areas
  • Courses on teaching psychology
  • Qualifying exams
Third Year
  • Practicum in teaching
  • Research
  • Seminars
  • Fourth Year
  • Dissertation research

Most students complete the program in four or five years. Recent graduates have taken faculty positions at college and universities, including the University of Iowa, the University of Toronto, the University of Birmingham, Williamette College, Millsap College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Others have pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Oregon, UCLA, and the University of Chicago.

Research training

Upon entering the Developmental Psychology program, each student begins working on research under the supervision of a faculty member, either in the faculty member's ongoing research or on a problem mutually agreed to by the student and a faculty member. This initial participation in research enables the student to become proficient in specific research methods, develop expertise in a content area, and establish a monitoring relationship with an advisor. In firestone research, students also participate in a seminar with entering graduate students from all areas of psychology. As part of this seminar, students write an application for a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. It is not unusual for several members of the incoming class to receive these very prestigious fellowships; even more receive honorable mention awards.

As students advance, they are encouraged to seek out the expertise of other laboratories whose work relates to their own research questions. Cross-laboratory interaction is fostered by a continuing weekly developmental seminar, open to all developmental graduate students and faculty.

Our goal in research training is not to reproduce images of ourselves. Rather we seek to train the next generation of scientists-scientists with the skills and experience to redefine the forefront and to go wherever advances in knowledge may lead.


Scholars and scientists have the responsibility to disseminate knowledge as well as to create it. An important way this is done is by teaching at a university or college. Accordingly, the graduate training program also prepares students for eventual teaching at a university. As part of this training, all graduate students—regardless of the source of their financial support—take a practicum in teaching, usually in their fourth semester in residence. They also teach a one-semester undergraduate laboratory course in their fifth or sixth semester of the program.

Interdisciplinary training

Because our goal is to train the next generation of scientists and university professors and because advances in knowledge often come at the seams of established areas, students are encouraged to develop expertise within psychology and across related disciplines: in biology, neuroscience, linguistics, and artificial intelligence.

Developmental psychology students may take part in a number of interdisciplinary seminars and interest groups. These seminars assemble for weekly collegial meetings with faculty and graduate students from a variety of departments with common research interests.

Interdisciplinary programs affiliated with the department include the Program for Neural Science, the Program for Cognitive Science, the Center for Infant Perception and Action, and the Program in Animal Behavior.

Students with strong interdisciplinary interests can also pursue a degree through the Multidisciplinary Training Program in Developmental Process. This program joins faculty and students from the Departments of Psychology, Kinesiology, and Speech and Hearing Sciences who share a common interest in the integrative study of change in infancy and early childhood. Training can focus on either basic or applied research across a range of diverse areas such as neuroscience, biomechanics, perception, action, affect, language, speech production, and higher cognition.

In-depth training

Generally speaking, most major scientific advances are achieved by investigators who have committed themselves to working systematically and persistently on a particular problem.For this reason, our program encourages students to become experts in at least one research area, and to experience the satisfaction of pursuing a research problem in depth over an extended period. In developmental psychology, expertise in a content area usually means mastering the literature in another area of psychology. Thus, a student who seeks to understand cognitive development must know cognitive psychology. A student who seeks to understand social development needs to know social psychology.

To develop this expertise, developmental students regularly take seminars in other areas of psychology, and they may work in laboratories of psychology faculty in areas other than development. Many developmental students’ qualifying exam committees and dissertation committees are composed of one or two developmental faculty members and one or two faculty members from other areas in psychology or allied departments.

Financial support

Financial support for the Developmental Psychology program is generous. All incoming developmental graduate students are provided with scholarships for tuition and fees, as well as a 12-month stipend. This support can come from fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or training grants.

All students are guaranteed full support for five years as long as they are in good academic standing. Support beyond the fifth year also is possible.

Prospective graduate students may be interested in applying for support from the Developmental Training Grant during the admission process. For more information on this opportunity, visit the website for the Training Program in Integrative Developmental Process.


Students in Developmental Psychology have the unique opportunity to use our imaging facilities to learn about and conduct studies on the neural mechanisms associated with developmental change. These facilities include a 4T Siemens fMRI scanner and simulator, and EEG facilities, all housed within the Psychology building. Functional neuroimaging of children ages 4 years and older using fMRI is a vibrant methodology at IU. We encourage our students to learn about Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience through hands-on mentoring as well as course work.

Area spokesperson: Susan Jones